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trucks as tools of terrorism?

With all due respect to the US Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA), which believes the threat of trucks being used in future terrorist attacks is real, I think ...


With all due respect to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA), which believes the threat of trucks being used in future terrorist attacks is real, I think carriers are more likely to face some different dangers in the coming year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that carriers, particularly those hauling dangerous goods, not heed the FMCSA’s advice to beef up security. The FMCSA and other US government agencies charged with public safety are doing their job under uncharacteristically tough circumstances. (Consider that more than 475 million people, 125 million vehicles and 21.4 million import shipments cross the borders of the country some of the deadliest terrorists have branded enemy number one, and you understand what prompted Stephen E. Flynn, a US Coast Guard commander and fellow of the US Council of Foreign Relations, to comment that “intercepting the ripples of danger in this tidal wave of commerce is about as likely as winning a lottery.”}

But despite the terrorist threat, I do agree with the comment David Bradley, CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, made recently that the idea of trucks as the next weapons of mass destruction is somewhat overdone.

I believe the threats to motor carriers, and in some cases our way of living, are much closer to home. The people behind these threats wear the same style of clothes we do, speak the same language, likely share many of the same beliefs.

The first of these threats is that posed by political opportunists; people willing to use the uncertainties created by the horrible events and aftermath of September 11 to further their political goals. In the US the fight has already begun with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), a lobby group that has had a long-simmering feud with fleet owners, issuing a media release provocatively titled “Normal Business Practices in Trucking are an Open Invitation to Terrorists.” (see page 26)

I wonder how long it will be before Canadian fleet owners will have to fend off similar attacks by our own groups, such a s CRASH and our fledgling owner/operator association, which haven’t shown much trepidation in the past over bending a few facts in order to get media attention.

The second threat comes from your own customers. As they watch their profits dwindle in the face of a downwardly spiralling economy, how long before they start demanding rate cuts? (And never mind the fact that rates were dropping an average of 1.1 percent per year through the late 90s.) The words of Lisa MacGillivray, who heads the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association, one the largest shipper organizations in the country should be raising some alarms: “Manufacturers are starting to dig down to figure out where else they can cut costs. That’s not good news for carriers,” she warned fleet managers attending the recent Ontario Trucking Association annual convention in Toronto (see page 20).

The final threat is posed by the US company executives making the decisions as to how far afield their supplier base should be. Carriers should be very concerned, as was mentioned repeatedly at the OTA convention, that influential US companies not start thinking of the Canada/US border as an impediment to their supply lines and turn to domestic suppliers as a result. You know there will be plenty of protectionist politicians south of the border ready to seize the moment and push them in that direction.

Motor carriers do need to realize we are operating in a different world following September 11. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that some of our oldest enemies reside within our borders and have not gone away.

Lou Smyrlis, MCILT Editor, lsmyrlis@corporate. southam.ca


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